This may be a little late but I recently went to see Water For Elephants. I was extremly excited to see it as I love the time period it is set in and although I find clowns incredibly creepy I did not let it put me off this circus themed film. And boy was I disappointed! I had been warned that the film was overly girly and sentimental but nothing had prepared me for what I saw on the screen in front of me.
Filmed in the flashback-nostalgic old photograph kind of glow that I associate with the glamorous but more simplistic time of 1920 America. It is is based on the 2006 bestseller by Sara Gruen. Robert Pattinson attempts to emerge from his twilight success as wholesome leading male Jacob, a young student studying to be a vet at Cornell University during the Great Depression, when he receives the shattering news that his parents have died in a car crash, leaving him penniless and unable to continue with his studies. So he trudges off looking for work, leaps into a train boxcar and finds himself part of a travelling circus. Every young boys dream is to run away with the circus and instantly, he makes himself indispensable as a vet and a miraculously intuitive trainer of the circus’s expensive but abused new elephant. This big-yet-sensitive beast symbolises the troupe’s bruised and battered collective soul .
On paper, the movie should have a fair bit going for it. Hal Holbrook (an Oscar nominee for his cameo in Into the Wild) plays the ageing Jacob narrating the action; Reese Witherspoon plays Marlena, the troupe’s feisty star and Christoph Waltz is August, the circus’s owner and the jealous husband of Marlena. He is simmeringly enraged at her obvious tendresse for pert young Jacob, and liable to take it out on that poor innocent elephant of theirs which will make you recoil in horror.
Waltz’s character August is in the habit of “redlighting” circus stagehands that he can’t afford to pay, which means he actually throws them off the moving train. He is a psychopath. And yet the film itself can’t quite bear to represent him in this light, insisting that his relevant character flaw is poisonous jealousy. To refuse to let Augusts evil side surface too much is one of the films biggest downfalls. Witherspoon, a fiery and intelligent performer in Walk the Line, and especially in her masterpiece Election, is here a little bland. She seems too innocent to be part of this life that she is trying to portray.
This movie has some theoretically spectacular moments, which somehow don’t read on screen as spectacular or even all that exciting. When all the animals are released from their cages, creating violent and surreal mayhem as they rampage up into the audience areas and out into the streets, that should be sensational. Yet it feels as inert as a watercolour illustration in a yellowing old storybook. However, our very own RPatz doesn’t do too badly. This film may provide a bridge to a career beyond vampirism. It may just have been the perfect film choice for him to rid himself of the curse of teen movies.